–Developments relating to the Guyana-Venezuela Controversy
Madam Chair, permit me to congratulate you on your assumption of the chairmanship of the Permanent Council. My Delegation has no doubt that your diplomatic skills, vast experience, high intellect and considerable charm will prove more than adequate in guiding us through the next three months. You may count on our fullest cooperation and support.
My Delegation wishes to record its appreciation for the opportunity it has been given to inform this Permanent Council of developments relating to the Guyana-Venezuela Controversy that are of deep concern to Guyana. We are similarly grateful that the Address to the Nation, on January 9, 2021, by His Excellency Dr. Mohamed Irfaan Ali, President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, has been circulated for the information of Member States.
As Member States are aware, there is a long-standing controversy between Guyana and Venezuela, arising from Venezuela’s contention, in 1962 in the context of Guyana’s impending Independence, that the Arbitral Award of 1899, settling the frontier between then British Guiana and Venezuela, is null and void.
Over the years, successive Governments and the people of Guyana have been united in looking to international justice for the upholding of our territorial integrity and for a resolution of the controversy within the bounds of international law.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is now being used as the means of settlement, having being chosen by the Secretary General of the United Nations, His Excellency António Guterres who, under the 1966 Geneva Agreement, determined that significant progress was not being made towards arriving at a solution to the decades-long controversy, including under the framework of the Good Offices Process of the Secretary General.
Against this background, on March 29, 2018, Guyana filed an application, instituting proceedings against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela at the ICJ. On December 18, 2020, the ICJ ruled that it had jurisdiction to hear the case relative to the validity of the Arbitral Award. Consequently, the ICJ will proceed to hear the merits of the case and we are confident that the validity and legally binding character of the 1899 Arbitral Award will be upheld unequivocally by the ICJ.
My Government is deeply disturbed, however, that on January 7, 2021, the President of Venezuela, Mr. Nicolás Maduro, issued a decree, purporting to establish a new maritime territory of Venezuela called the “Territory for the development of the Atlantic Façade” and claiming for Venezuela, “sovereignty and exclusive sovereign rights in the waters and seabed adjacent to Guyana’s coast, west of the Essequibo River”. Mr. Maduro also, most regrettably, announced that he had despatched a letter on the same date to the United Nations Secretary General, rejecting the jurisdiction of the ICJ to rule upon the validity of the 1899 Arbitral Award.
I take this opportunity, on behalf of my Government, to reiterate the following facts and reaffirm Guyana’s position on these developments, which not only pose a threat to our peace and security but the peace and security of our region.
In accordance with international law and the assertion of its sovereignty and territorial integrity, Guyana rejects entirely the decree issued by Mr. Maduro, as he explained it on live television, on January 7th. As per the 1899 Arbitral Award and as recognized by the international community, Guyana exercises full sovereignty over the land west of the Essequibo River, as far as Punta Playa, the north-western tip of Guyana, and, consequently, the adjoining maritime area. We therefore make the following two observations.
The first is that no State can unilaterally determine its international boundaries, whether they are land or maritime boundaries. The fixing of an international boundary under international law can only result from an agreement between neighbouring States or a binding determination by an international court or arbitral award.
The second observation relates to the principle that “the land dominates the sea”, which means that sovereignty and sovereign rights over the adjacent sea and seabed can only derive from title to and ownership of the adjacent coast. As President Ali pointed out in his statement of January 9th, which has been distributed to delegations, only Guyana can, therefore, enjoy sovereignty and exclusive sovereign rights over its adjacent sea and seabed.
Mr. Maduro’s decree is patently absurd and a decidedly unneighbourly and hostile act. This effort by Venezuela to attempt unilaterally to redraw its borders and annex Guyana’s land and maritime areas, is a legal nullity and an act of aggression, which should not and cannot be tolerated by any other State in the world.
But there is worse, Madam Chair. On Thursday January 21, 2021, two Guyanese registered fishing vessels – the Lady Nayera and the Sea Wolf – operating off the coast of Waini Point within Guyana’s Exclusive Economic Zone, were intercepted by the Venezuelan naval vessel Comandante Hugo Chavez GC 24. The Guyanese civilian Captains were instructed to chart a course to Port Güiria, in Venezuela, where the boats and crews have been detained and to date have not been released. The Venezuelan vessel was illegally manoeuvring within Guyana’s EEZ and Contiguous Zone when it intercepted, boarded and commandeered the Guyanese fishing vessels.
Guyana has registered to the Government of Venezuela its protest, in the strongest possible terms, at these unlawful and aggressive actions by the Government of Venezuela against the State and people of Guyana and has insisted upon the immediate release and return of the two Guyanese vessels and their crews.
It is regrettable that the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has chosen to resort to the unilateral use of military force to assert its territorial claims and maritime jurisdiction – which Guyana regards as entirely baseless and contrary to international law – rather than honour its commitment, under the 1966 Geneva Agreement, to have the controversy resolved, in a peaceful, final and binding manner, by the International Court of Justice. Guyana reiterates its call to Venezuela to participate fully in the ICJ proceedings, as international law requires, and to accept its final Judgment, as it is obligated to do under the United Nations Charter.
Guyana is a peace-loving country, respectful of the rule of international law. We highly appreciate the support we continue to receive from the international community, in particular, the CARICOM family and the OAS General Secretariat, as we endeavour to preserve our sovereignty and territorial integrity.
My Delegation will continue to apprise this Permanent Council on developments regarding this matter.
Madam Chair, I thank you and our distinguished colleagues for your kind attention and understanding.